With all the Gospel experts among the evangelicals at the Conservative Political Action Conference, surely a few of them had a chuckle about the golden statue of Donald Trump that was wheeled around the recent CPAC conference in Orlando. Or maybe not. They typically don’t have much of a sense of humor about such things. In fact, they usually don’t find much amusement in the Bible. So they won’t see any humor between the gold Trump statue and the golden calf from Old Testament times. Golden calves are defined in the dictionary as “objects of materialistic or unworthy worship.”
Worthy or not, there wasn’t any question that the right-wing true believers at CPAC worshipped Donald Trump. When he made his appearance, his first since being bounced from the White House, the roar was comparable to the high-volume chaos at the Capitol building after the insurrectionists were incited by the then-president to start their deadly invasion of the home of democracy in the United States. Perhaps at CPAC the din was even louder because so many in the crowd could whoop it up while refusing to wear face masks. That is illogical for several reasons.
First of all, it is risky. Certainly by now even these defenders of “freedom” are aware of the dangers of going unmasked as COVID-19 strikes them down as a result. Secondly, they accept other limitations to their “liberties” -- seat belt laws, for instance; those laws that make texting while driving illegal, for another; or the illegality of driving while drinking.
Thirdly, a mask would have covered up their spittle as they bellowed when Trump entered, and went bonkers when he asked, “Do you miss me yet?”
For the shrieking thousands in the room, Donald Trump touched all their T-spots. He attacked Joe Biden with all the pent-up venom a man could have who has had his social media accounts silenced. He charged once again that his defeat was the result of a “rigged” election. He really set the crowd off when he teased with: “Who knows? I may even decide to beat them for a third time.”
Actually, it was just as interesting who was not at the CPAC event as who was. Mike Pence was not. Neither was Nikki Haley. Both of them figure in the if-not-Donald-then-who speculation.
As for the annual straw poll the conference runs -- the notoriously inaccurate straw poll when picking a Republican nominee -- the Donald flexed his muscles (yes, he has muscles), gaining 55% of the vote.
Among those who did show up was the senator from Cancun (yes, that was a cheap shot), Ted Cruz, who was playing his usual duplicity game. He came to praise Trump because it was too soon to bury him: “Let me tell you this right now. Donald Trump ain’t goin’ anywhere.” He left off the word “yet,” but that was implicit, although this particular crowd may not appreciate subtlety.
But first ahead is the off-year election in 2022, usually a good cycle for the party not in power in Congress. That would be the Republicans. Donald Trump has made it amply clear that he wants to be a player in that game, on his way to being THE player in the presidential games in 2024. He can now play the outsider, once again, taking shots at Biden as ... “anti-jobs, anti-family, anti-borders, anti-energy, anti-women and anti-science.”
And waiting in the wings in case Trump decides he doesn’t want to make a go of it, or the party decides for him, is Ted Cruz, or the crowd of sharp elbowed politicians (pardon the redundancy) that are successful in shoving Don Trump aside into retirement. What was it his buddy Kim Jong Un described him as, a “dotard”? Then the GOP will have a succession fight worthy of North Korea to see who takes over and who gets to win the golden statue prize.
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.